In search of the perfect destination... - Veterinary Practice
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In search of the perfect destination…

I have written most of this whilst on holiday in France. The trip began quite badly as I had got the day of the ferry wrong. We arrived at the port with all the usual excitement and build-up with a car full of children, all wanting to be “the first to see the ferry”.

As we entered the port there was an air of desolation as there was no ferry and no other cars. Luckily there was one later that day and the staff were very helpful as I begged them for assistance. It worked out OK in the end as we got an overnight crossing.

Booking the ferry was my main area of responsibility in the planning of the trip, and it was an awful half hour in the port sorting out the alternative. There is, however, something liberating in making such a colossal balls-up right at the beginning of a trip.

To completely cock up the one thing you had sole responsibility for right at the start does lower the bar of expectations somewhat. It’s not something I could recommend, however, as you won’t always get such a ready “plan B”. It also could not be recommended as an approach to working life where there are no nice French ladies in uniform to help you out.

I was keen to go abroad to get away from work and from seeing clients when out and about. Most of them are fine but it’s good to get away from them occasionally.

France is a country of many eccentricities, the most frustrating of which is their opening times. In the village where my brother lives there is a branch of the chain “8 a huit” or “8 till eight”.

What it should really be called is “8 till eight apart from two-and-a-half hours in the middle of the day”. The opening hours over there can be maddening, especially when looking for essentials like fuel for the car.

Another unusual sight for me was in a petrol station. I was filling up the car and the woman in the car next to me was smoking with the window open. Whilst I admire her dedication to her addiction, this was maybe a health and safety risk too far. (I was, however, impressed to see an edge of town garage that had a bar in it).

They work late to compensate for the long lunches (which give them the time to smoke and drink in the petrol stations I guess) and I’m not sure many of us would like that extended day. However, whilst I can see the attraction of a long lunch with a few glasses of wine and a Gauloise or two, I think the clients may find the closed and shuttered-up practice frustrating for the lunch hour and pre-school-run slot.

One bonus of working in France, though, would be the demeanour of their dogs. They seem so much more laid back. It may be the heat that makes them soporific or the fact that they go everywhere with their owners and consequently don’t explode with excitement when out and about.

It is quite normal to see a small dog riding in a shopping trolley in a supermarket, dogs in restaurants (where they are given a water bowl by the table) and dogs in the market sloping along on the lead. One market day I saw shar-peis, a non wrinkly Basset, Briards and all sorts of muts just mooching around taking it all in.

I think our culture of dog-in-thehouse or out-going-mad on a walk may be not helping our canine companions. Whilst they are accepted in most pubs in the UK, other public buildings are usually dog-free, thus necessitating that they be left at home.

Alan de Boston wrote a fascinating book entitled The Art of Travel. In it he discusses, amongst other things, one of the main sources of dissatisfaction with travel.

All the same problems

It goes something like this. When you see a holiday brochure, or surf the net looking for an ideal destination, you see the destination and usually a model or a perfect family in the picture, or no one at all.

When you arrive you find that you have, unfortunately, brought yourself along with all the same problems, hangups and anxieties that you had at home. And the perfect destination is in fact the same as anywhere else in terms of your point of view. This can be multiplied up depending on the number of unruly children you have strapped in the back of the car.

I think the most fascinating insight into travel, and particularly for vets in practice, comes in one of Philip Larkin’s poems. It is actually discussing being at home, but in comparison to being abroad.

Here is the last stanza from The Importance of Elsewhere:

“Living in England has no such excuse:

These are my customs and establishments.

It would be much more serious to refuse.

Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.”

“Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.” That sums up travel and the need for holidays, or rather the inverse does: being abroad and having an “elsewhere” (i.e. your home country) to underwrite your failings in the country you are visiting.

It is important he uses the word “underwrites” and not “excuse”. I love the fact that I can barely order lunch in most foreign countries, fumble with the currency and struggle with the opening hours.

At home we can’t ignore our normal customs, can’t struggle to get through a day with the language and as vets certainly can’t ignore our institutions.

As vets we are paid for talking. Most of us charge a decent sum to the public for the privilege of hearing us gas on for 10 minutes or so. What a relief it is to be somewhere where there is no pressure to say or do the right thing, where you struggle to order a meal and
are treated with a thinly disguised mixture of contempt and pity.

Day in, day out, as vets at work we have to say and do the right thing, and also to some extent in the community we live in if you are “the local vet”. Most of us get recognised occasionally and are also sometimes asked for advice by friends and acquaintances.

Most of us are happy with this, but just occasionally, just for a few weeks, it’s great to be a great big idiot who can barely speak and be someone no one knows or cares about who you are: just another tourist! But as a tourist we have the security of Larkin’s “elsewhere”: our home, our job, our money.

I wouldn’t want to be a fool all the time. I have travelled widely and learnt a language a long time ago, I can get by and do appreciate other cultures and civilisations. But now I am part of this culture and this civilisation (i.e. a vet in the UK), it is nice to take a break from it and suddenly be free of any obligations to our customs, establishments and be able to refuse to be a fully functioning member of society.

However, now I am back. And in my practice these are my customs, and I am governed by an establishment. It would be much more serious to refuse

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